"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Is American Christianity Powerless?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is American Christianity Powerless?

Not long ago, I had a chance conversation with an OALC preacher who lives in farming country. He told me how agribusiness is destroying the family farm, creating health crises (e.g., mad cow disease, obesity) and making it harder to buy local food. He seemed to suggest that the free market has taken us places we don't want to be. This suprised me. I had always assumed that he was a die-hard conservative, and maybe he is. But it was apparent that a web of negative consequences had revealed itself through the trials of the people he loves.

I wonder what he would think of this jeremiad by Jane Smiley. After detailing recent corporate crimes and abuses, she asks:

Are these CEOs and CFOs and COOs and managers and researchers and stockholders so beyond human that, let's say, the deaths in Iraq and the destitution of the farmers and the tumors and allergies and obesities of children, and the melting of the Greenland ice cap and the shifting of the Gulf Stream are, to them, just the cost of doing business? Or are they just beyond stupid and blind, so that they, alone among humans, have no understanding of the interconnectedness of all natural systems?

One thing you have to ask yourself, faced with American corporate culture, is, what is it about Americans, in particular, that makes them so indifferent to consequences, especially the consequence of doing harm to others, over and over and over? Why did those big tobacco folks persist, for fifty years, in poisoning their customers and attempting to get more customers? Was that what Jesus told them to do?

I bring up Jesus because many, if not most of these companies are headquartered in red states, states proud of their Christian heritage. Big tobacco is (or used to be) located in the south, big oil in Texas, big ag in St. Louis, Minnesota, and Iowa. If Christianity abounds in these states, and people working in these corporations, and running them, are professing Christians, and these people give themselves a license to steal and destroy every day of the year, what does that say about Christianity? Let me tell you. It says that Christianity, especially American Christianity, is the religion of death. Or it says that corporate culture is one thing and religious belief is another, and the religious side is powerless to confront any of the deadly sins perpetrated by the corporate side.

What do you think?


  1. Many conservative Christians are blind to the problems described. Because they, as a group, have not seen their children blown to bits by US bombs or failed to keep vegetables on the table because the nearest grocery store is too far from their impoverished urban neighborhood, these problems simply do not exist for them. What is this blindness: willful or ignorant? If these people, as a group, were to raise their awareness of these problems to the point we'd like, they'd no longer maintain their identities. Can we really expect the good-ol'-boy JimBobs or middle-class, whitebread Junes to become socially-aware proponents of change?

    Nontheless, if Christian teachings are to be believed, they still have a responsibility to raise their awareness. I simply think they, as a group, will remain like most other humans and concern themselves with what affects their own daily lives, little concerned by what's happening to nameless Iraqis or urban poor. As Christians, they are failing to meet the mark; but as humans, they are unexceptional.

    What is most disturbing is how many in the conservative Christian community flaunt their blindness. Instead of keeping silent and at least appearing wise, they open their mouths and remove all doubt of the innermost of their hearts, railing on about how we should round up all them A-rabs and condemn them worthless welfare queens (code-speak used to foment racial discord). They say, "USA, USA, USA: we can do no wrong! Rip down any foreign flags anywhere! Ban those liberal, traitorous perverts!" This fanaticism cannot be written off as simple blindess: it's smug reveling in blindess -- willful blindess -- and deeply shameful.

    Back in the realm of sanity, Jim Wallis and many like-minded folks are working to demonstrate Jesus in this world. May God bless their efforts! But we need results to give us hope for conservative Christianity.

  2. Read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins - it will be well worth your time.

  3. I would like to pose a question based on my experience as a fairly conservative Christian, but yet disenchanted by some of the very points you raise.

    Is the church doing a very good job of representing the heart of God?

    I feel like sometimes we are just offering up a platter of spiritual experience or spoonfed beliefs that are supposed to heal all of our issues, without actually having the faith to believe God is really big enough to deal with all of our pain and strugglesand the truth of our experience. For those of us who have been unfairly dealt sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, married within that system, and bring a volatile combination of raw and open wounds to the table, "Just fix your eyes on Jesus, pray more and read your Bible more" does nothing to actually deal with the traumatic response systems we learned early in life.

    God is bringing healing in my life and marriage, but I don't feel like this was in any way facilitated by the church. I go to church, I love to worship, but I feel like it's time we start dealing with some real issues. The ignorance you speak of seems that of faith untested, resulting in judgmental and superior attitudes. Believers should not fear doubt, or questioning, or anger with God. These all result in a stronger belief...

    What do you think?

  4. As I reread my post, I realize it seems unrelated to the topic at hand.
    It has a connection in my brain, I'm just not articulating it well.

  5. LLLreader: to exoalc--I know exactly what you are talking about. There was a time in my life that I was one of the walking wounded. When you said "bringing a volatile combination of raw and open wounds to the table" I had a real flashback. I was out of the OALC by then, but couldn't find healing in any of the fundamentalist churches I was visiting. I eventually did find a church that does take an honest look at the realities of life, and also was led to a counselor who helped me sort things out. A pat on the head and "Just put a big smile on your face and trust the Lord" as one women told me, just didn't cut it at that time. I needed to look for fellow Christians who understood that canned responces aren't enough, and had a willingness to accept that as humans we aren't always able to rise above issues. I think it's true that God doesn't give us more then we can deal with--but sometimes there is that valley of pain that takes a long time to crawl out of. I was blessed to find a church family that looks honestly at the hard realities of life. The OALC doesn't have a monopoly on complacency and smugness, and it's my job to help bring awareness to my congregation that we are indeed our brother's keepers. Am I on your wave length exoalc?

  6. Big tobacco, big corporations and the like concern me. And big government concerns me even more.

  7. exoalc and LLLreader: I think I understand and can relate to both your posts. Reading the bible, praying and associating with fellow believers is great for growth, but it doesnt teach boundries, how to change destructive patterns, and the like. I have wrestled with this, as at first it seems to contradict that "all we need is Christ" but I have come to realize that there are many resources available in this world for just about anything we want to learn about (and some we dont) and God gave me a mind, eyes, and ears to learn, and a soul after Him to differentiate the good from the not so good. Short story long, I dont think God will do everything FOR me, but that He gave me the resources and I still have to contribute by doing some work.

    As far as what role the church plays in all this: Im not sure. I have wondered the same thing. I hear missionary stories about how Christianity is flourishing in other countries, and how thier worship service songs can be heard for blocks or miles, and I wonder about our small, church and the levels of joy we are experiencing vs what we are capable of. I wonder a lot lately about how I can be effective in this country, my "little" world, and how the church, as a larger body of believers can be a vehicle. Dont have any answers though.

    I agree that many people, regardless of faith, are blind to many problems. For me it seems that politics are not a "dabble in" arena. One has to be fully emersed or stay out of the water. I like to support organizations that take the time to investigate and educate the general public, as I dont like to take the time (my narrow stance I fully admit) to sort through all the "fronts" and "stories for the public" and decern what is the truth vs what is outright lies. Again I dont have much for answers, but have the same question "Is American Christianity Powerless?" I dont want to feel that way, but I wonder.

  8. exoalc, your post is very relevant and my heart goes out to you. I hope you are finding affirmation in these blogs.

    My frustration with many Christians is similar to my impatience with many New Agey types: Their focus on self is so whack: MY lord, MY Jesus, MY, ME, MINE. Prayers like a shopping list. Bargain hunting for easy/showy works. Competitive with others. A real consumer's view of God.

    And so terribly self-defeating. Because if Jesus taught us anything, it was that love increases by giving it away, that wholeness comes from selflessness, that non-attachment is the key to true wealth.

    But I understand too well the temptations. We're hardwired for self-preservation, and only in security can we give ourselves away. Frequently insecure and protective, my ears are stone-deaf to the call of Jesus to feed the poor, visit the sick, and love my enemy. I postpone my own healing, hoarding for that rainy day.

    I understand your point, Hp3, about the difficulty to discern between truth and spin in politics. But we are always political, even in inertia. We can't NOT be political, unfortunately. Believe me, the dearth of letters regarding protections for the poor and ill is noticed by our policymakers. The abundance of letters regarding gay marriage is noticed.

    We cannot avoid being political in how we spend our time and money, and some churches are educating about these issues, But whether Christianity will act like Christ or Halliburton is up to us.

    We are the people we've been waiting for, to quote Jim Wallis.

  9. Actually I say way more than that. I say that the reason "in God we Trust" is on the money is because our God is Money!

    Mammon is the official religion in this country, and until that changes I will not be surprised by corporate abuses.

    Which makes you more nervous, talking about your faith in public, or talking about how much money you make? The answer speaks volumes about where the real priorities lie.

  10. "The ignorance you speak of seems that of faith untested, resulting in judgmental and superior attitudes. Believers should not fear doubt, or questioning, or anger with God. These all result in a stronger belief..."
    I agree, exoalc- I think your post was relevant. Whether it is the wounds of societies or specific people living beside us; I feel like most conservative Christians are "just offering up a platter of spiritual experience or spoonfed beliefs that are supposed to heal all of our issues, without actually having the faith to believe God is really big enough to deal with all of our pain and struggles and the truth of our experience."

    The saying is "ignorance is bliss"
    I'll add, 'until it falls in your lap' -when the consequences of ignoring it all finally affect your own life.

  11. "My frustration with many Christians is similar to my impatience with many New Agey types: Their focus on self is so whack: MY lord, MY Jesus, MY, ME, MINE. Prayers like a shopping list. Bargain hunting for easy/showy works. Competitive with others. A real consumer's view of God."
    "Mammon is the official religion in this country, and until that changes I will not be surprised by corporate abuses."

    "By their works ye shall know them": the gods of the modern American culture - Self and Money.
    Sad, but obviously true.

  12. Ilmarinen....

    What are "good-ol' boy JimBobs or middle-class, whitebread Junes? And what would it take to make them socially aware? If they agreed with your perspective would they qualify for inclusion in the class or can they hold other views?

  13. CVOW...

    Nice response to the always feeling notions of our political friends.

    These folks go to bed at night fearing that people are actually going to decide for themselves what is best and wake up in the morning with another entity to blame for the consequence of free choice. The more left of center enclaves are having a tough time figuring out why the red states actually donate more in charity than the ever compassionate and enlightened and socially aware blue states. They brush this phenomenon off by saying that charity to churches doesn't count. Meals fed to the poor by nuns are obviously inferior in nutritional value than the same meals fed by government supported social workers.

    Big business surely is a problem. And this has been recognized by society for some time now with the advent of anti-trust laws and the like. However, every attempt to curb big government power and big union power (institutions who forcibly take money from its members) are met with cries of righteous indignation from the very people who rail against Halliburton. I have these visions of all my concerned loving left of center activists frantically searching under rocks for remnants of the big oil producers who actually refine the gasoline that they pump into their cars in order to get to the next "Hate Bush" rally. But things don't have to make sense.

    Let us all begin the effort to search out the “Jim-Bobs” of the world… we can’t trust them either until we send them to the government mandated consciousness raising classes. The free thinking bourgeoisie has gone far enough.

  14. Oh, come on, you guys. You're sounding windbaggish, I'm sorry to say.

    CVOW, first of all, your little ole farm isn't all there is to agribusiness. Haven't you ever driven past a feed lot???

    And Stylux, quit lumping unions in with big business. In one of the recent big elections, big business out-spent unions 11 to 1 in donations for "worthy causes/candidates". Red states claim to give more to charity than blue, but if you check into it further, you'll find that a huge percentage of that is the 10% for the church. And Missouri spawned AG Ashcroft, did it not?

  15. Of course let's not lump anything in with big business. Big business stands singularly alone out there sporting its devil horns and spewing and snorting its death inducing products into my mailbox. I am dusting off my voter registration card as I speak and joining up with the Dem's to legislate against this vicous act of free enterprise. Thank God for them... free at last. And while we are at it let's tax Missouri citizens extra for foisting Ashcroft on us and send the money to New York... all the better to get more Shumers elected. Now, I am beginning to feel better already.

  16. When you can't argue the facts, a little ridicule will do? Gentlemen, shame on you. I expected some actual discourse.

    Okay, deep breath. No one is claiming BSE itself was created by agribusiness -- rather that the crisis is caused by feeding dead meat to live.

    And no one said agribusiness created obesity. But when (heavily subsidized) agribusiness floods the market with corn that is translated into cheap, unhealthy food, the least educated, poorest children suffer.

    "If people just thought about what they put in their own mouths, they wouldn't have to look for someone to blame for the fact they just can't push away from the table!" Come on. Look at the playgrounds in the poorer neighborhoods and tell me that those 100-pound five year olds just don't have enough willpower.

    "If people don't buy, then things stop being made."

    Would that include child pornography? Exploitation has many forms.

    Af for American tobacco, 20 minutes of reading on the subject (from a source not sponsored by the industry) will show you the difference. Long story short: we don't see Joe Camel anymore.

    "Big business isn't what caused me to leave the ranch." Not the point. When the market is flooded with patented seed (and when it is illegal to save seeds for next year's sowing, as it is now in Iraq, thanks to Paul Bremmer), not only will the ecosystem suffer from loss of variety but so will our diets. Biodiversity is not the USDA's charter, unfortunately.

    "Times change, and if we are not willing to adapt, then we have our heads in the sand."

    Surely there is a third way. Rather than just sleep or adapt, we ourselves be the change we wish to see in the world. To paraphrase Ghandi.

    It means educating ourselves instead of relying on propoganda, left, right or center.

    "I could take most of those whiners out to the ranch and in three days they would never want to experience that pleasant and carefree lifestyle again." (Ad hominem is beneath you, cvow.) I certainly wouldn't want to make my living on a farm or ranch. Nonetheless, some folks do. And from both environmental, quality of life, and health perspectives, it is in our collective self-interest to support local farmers.

    This isn't about romance or nostalgia. It's about responsibility to our planet and our children.

    "Does that mean that there is a positive correlation that proves someone who is making good money and running a successful business is evil or lacking in responsibility?"

    Wha? That equation is yours alone! Note that no one is taking Bill Gates to task.

    As for your rabbit trail about quiet generosity versus ostentatious skinflints, I think that is possible but an unprovable assertion. Giving, whether it is in time, talents, or money, is often unmeasurable.

    But the proof is in the pudding. All the private charity in the world won't fix this fact: In the U.S., 12 million children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level—which is about $16,000 for a family of three and $19,000 for a family of four. And their numbers are increasing every day.

    Hope that wasn't too touch-feely for ya.

  17. Oh, Stylux, you are TOO funny. A few weeks ago, I heard some comments about you (not in the least way solicited, I assure you, and, in fact, it was quite shocking to hear your name) and now I understand your propensity for Put Up Your Dukes comments.
    Love ya!

  18. Free...

    You are right... we need more and more to fight the problem. I read my history and it seems that since LBJ's war on poverty we havent' done enough. Billions and billions of our dollars have been spent since then and now I see the light. After reading your statistics on poverty it seems as though we have all been pikers and haven't made a dent in the problem. What is needed here is more generosity and more government dollars and more programs and more social workers and more people with compassionate hearts and fewer conservatives talking about self-reliance.

  19. Sisu...

    Now you are hitting below the belt.

  20. Stylux, you really need to develop some compassion. Maybe take a trip to New Orleans? How about visiting some of the folks who clean our motels? Maybe check with some vets? How about someone who's lost their medical insurance due to an illness and can't work? Let me know what you find....

  21. Sisu…

    I am going to take to heart your questions and address them one by one...

    Firstly, I have been to New Orleans but not since Katrina. The reading of the news regarding this event has led me to believe that government on all levels made large mistakes and particularly the local level. It is my belief that city and state have the best chance to orderly evacuate citizens in the event of a weather related event and in this case should have done so in a more efficient way. But it was not to be and I take a dim view of what I consider the main news media's penchant for concentrating on the Fed’s failures. Had Bush ordered an earlier evacuation over the heads of the local politicians we would have stories today about how he completely disregarded the dually elected officials in his lust for power. This is partisan politics plain and simple. It might be noted that business did an admirable job in this hurricane.

    I stay in hotels and employ cleaners in my business and at home. I tend to tip the cleaners in hotels and pay the people who clean for me fairly well. I base this on the fact that we negotiate the rates together and they are free to either do the work or not. I also treat them well and give them benefits from time to time for their children and am concerned about their welfare. I also give them references when they ask. I must admit that I have never visited them in their homes but I don’t visit the grocery clerk’s house either. In my working career I have done gardening for individuals and have mopped floors for companies and was happy to get paid for it. At the time, I didn’t want the managers visiting my home.

    As for the Vets… I know some of them, have served in the military taking care of injured vets, have been in at least 20 Veterans Hospital and have and continue to support charities which cater to their interests.

    Medical Insurance… I have always purchased my own insurance and have never had a company provide it for me. When one examines the statistics of the uninsured one discovers that over half of them are uninsured by choice. This is a phenomenon of the young primarily who decide that participating in the system is not worth the money and they would rather take the risk and spend the money elsewhere. I don’t have a good answer for this. Now as for the unfortunate who desire insurance but cannot afford it, it is worth noting that medical care is available for them and we are paying for it. ER’s all over the country offer and give care for the indigent and the cost is averaged into what we all pay for healthcare. As for being out of work, I pay myself and for employees for participation in Workers Compensation and unemployment benefits.

    Now having tried to address your concerns, I would ask you… How can I adjust my thinking or change my actions to be more in line with a compassionate citizen as you define it.

  22. stylux,

    Jimbob and June were those Puritans in the Massechusetts Bay Colony in the 1600's who couldn't understand why Baptists would choose to worship differently and why they would complain about being oppressed. In the 1800's, they were Protestants from mainline churches who couldn't understand why the Catholic immigrants wanted to establish their own schools and why they complained about being oppressed. In the 1900's, they were the men who couldn't understand why women would want to have the right to vote and be considered independent entities before the law. In the 1960's, they were the whites who couldn't understand what the black community was complaining about. And in all these cases, they often didn't even care.

    The majority will often have little understanding of the lives of the minority. This blindness is often not intentional, but it nontheless is one of the biggest explanations for why horrible oppresion can continue in the face of cogent arguments against it.

    When you're trying to put me up as the only enlightened one in my ivory tower, you're just engaging in verbal jousting, not real discussion. I'm putting forth an ideal we should all strive toward, and I am certain I am blind in many areas to the ways some groups are being oppressed. We all need to work toward it. Some of us are, some of us don't care, and some of us scoff that the ideal even exists.

  23. Ilmarinen…

    You have answered my question regarding your choice of words with an historical account of oppression of some minority groups and that is quite clever. I congratulate you. But forgive me if I get the impression that using “Jim-Bob and whitebread June” refer to a region of the country that is often described as the Deep South. And further forgive me if I somehow have in my mind that intellectual elites of the east coast (where I spent most of my life) often use the same to disparage the intelligence of citizens who reside in non-coastal areas and in what is referred to as fly-over country. You might say that I am a little sensitive to this form of debate. I am happy to engage you on your ideal and yet feel a need to clarify language so that both of us can understand the terms before we continue. You must admit that media in this country often referred to as elite feel the need to question the intelligence of recent presidents elected from the Republican Party. And labels play a large role in establishing this perception. As you can see in this dialogue people with my perspective spend at least a little time convincing others that we are not altogether unfeeling.

    I am still not sure of what it takes to be socially “aware”.

  24. Stylux, I think what Ill and I are trying to get across is that showing compassion is "walking a mile in someone else's shoes". Your comments are sincere, but they all relate to YOU. We must also try to see the world through the other's eyes, and this is not easy.

  25. Sisu...

    I believe I understand your point and this is not how we differ. I see the same event taking place as you and have the same compassion as you but come to a different conclusion as to how to remedy it. The difference it seems to me is that you consider my remedy as a sign that I have no compassion and I regard your remedy as not as good as mine but not grounded in lack of feeling for the individuals. It isn't necessarily true that if I "walked in another's shoes" that I would ergo agree with your remedy.

  26. Ok, let's get informed. Let's demand that our government show us where our taxes are going. I urge you to contact your gov't reps, especialy the resistant. Here's a sample letter:

    Senator Ted Stevens,

    From Iraq to our own Gulf Coast, dollars that could be saving lives are being held up, misspent, or wasted. Troops don't have the body armor they need, small businesses in New Orleans haven't received support, and across the country 45 million people go without health insurance.

    Americans need accountability from the people who spend our federal tax dollars. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 would create a public, searchable database of all federal grants and contracts. I urge you to give this important open government measure a fair up or down vote.


    Citizen of a Democracy Doing My Duty

  27. stylux,

    Here's why I chose JimBob and June. JimBob represents the good-ol-boy network, especially that part of the network that rejects high-falutin' ideas like becoming socially aware. Think of stereotypes from the Dukes of Hazzard. While such people are present everywhere, the most recognizable examples unfortunately do happen to have a large degree of overlap with the representation of JimBob you are thinking of. I have never lived on the coasts and am not aware of a good representation from that part of the country. Penderton Walker Mellon, III, scion of wealth?

    June represents the white person who lives in a world where people of color are unseen. She moves about day-by-day wrapped up in her own life and her own concerns with little recognition of the issues facing those outside her white and comfortable community. Think June Cleaver.

    For you to be socially aware, you need to be aware of the issues facing those outside your own bubble. (Not meaning anything personal by that because we all live in little bubbles). For example, you recognize that people of color still today face racism, even if the racism may not be as open and blatant as it was fifty years ago. (I think it's safe to assume you're white?)

  28. Ilmarinen...

    I accept your explanation and thanks for providing it. As I was reading your paragraph a number of things came to mind. I believe the MLK ideal of judging people on the basis of character rather than color. And yet it has been my life's experience that color has meant more today than ever. Special dispensation for minorities, special clubs for color, special arrangments for ethnic clans, special plans for admittance to schools, racial quotas, questions on census forms asking about color, questions on mortgage applications asking about color... all the above in the name of equality based on someones idea.

    I read, I observe and I live life as well as the next person and I believe all of the above to be well-intentioned racism and racism that is denied by its very practitioners because they believe that their good intentions let them off the hook.

    I assume that you include this observation in your definition of social awareness.

  29. Minnesota and Iowa are BLUE states by the way.

  30. HONK!

    Okay, GK made me laugh, but only briefly. Because I am REALLY depressed by this dialogue. (Can we leave race out of it for now and go back to the original discussion? Race can be a huge topic for another day.)

    Cvow, in criticizing agribusiness, it is unchecked greed, supported by our government, that I fault, not some farmer. You tell me, is it right for our government, at the behest of Montesano, to make it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save the seed "gifted" to them to grow food to feed their children? Of course, these farmers can refuse to sow those Montesano seeds, and wait for some nonpatented, savable seeds to fall from heaven.

    Some choice.

    The reason I brought up pornography is because it is a vivid example of NOT allowing the free market to reign. We don't sell bourbon to 15 year olds, either, however profitable it would be. And we shouldn't allow Montesano to buy access to a people we are presumably "liberating."

    Resistance is not futile. Our local school kids now have healthier options in their snack machines. Of course, the district lost a lot of money from Coke. But it was the right thing to do.

    I am perplexed when Christians appeal to the free market as a force like the weather, to be submitted to, adapted to. Like a god. And you would think that we on this blog (of all people) could point to a common yardstick against which to measure our arguments.

    It can't be Jesus, ironically.

    But maybe, if we get beyond our antagonism, we can all agree that balance needs to be sought between individual freedom and social obligation.

    Can we take it from there?

  31. What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain. Cicero

  32. Anonymous…

    I think the best place to start with this analysis is to convene our legislators forthwith and demand that they create a new agency titled “Activities Deemed to be Worthy of Envy and
    Therefore Outlawed”. Nature photography and getting implants should head the list. With a little refinement we could reserve entertainment to card carrying “socially aware” citizens only and have all Republicans declared persona non grata in the ballparks of the nation. They have the audacity to utilize the Social Security and Medicare Systems. Shame on me for forgetting that when these programs were instituted they were reserved to only those who felt that government was the answer for everything.

    I also forgot something else and that was that diversity was supposed to be good for society. The outlandish notion that forcing our citizens to assimilate was proven to be so offensive and painful for the kids that now we must deal with instilling educational values. Another misconception that I have been forced to bear all these years is that the axiom that “competition fosters excellence” somehow doesn’t apply to teachers. That, I now understand. Paying teachers based on longevity is certainly more equitable than any merit system or infinitely better than some system of accountability. Pooh on any suggestion that vouchers would make the government schools better. That’s right… it isn’t the government schools that are the problem it is the Republicans in Washington… They have been running our schools in all the major cities in the country for years. Never mind the local school board as they are still waiting for the Department of Education to send them lunch money.

    Based on the numerous studies available that there is a direct link to student results and teachers pay we should increase salaries by a minimum of 300%. This would ensure that our kids would be smarter and more socially aware and that the teachers unions would cease whining about their pay. That in and of itself is a laudable outcome.

  33. stylux, we get that you don't like government, but who really thinks government is ideal?

    Just wondering, you are aware that humans are not economically rational actors, right?

    Another one: is the function of your ideal economy to maximize economic growth or human happiness?

  34. Ilmarinen,

    You impress me as a thinking person and your questions are very good and certainly in keeping with Free’s exhortation to keep things civil. They obviously lead to very complex discussion but I’ll answer them briefly and at the same time ask you the following: Defend the principle that government is the best answer to our social ills.

    I describe myself as a social libertarian and fiscal conservative and definitionally this implies that government has a limited role in the social contract. Having said that I am not dogmatically so as I realize that there are certain things the state must do… provide for defense, policing, ensuring tranquility by some social programs and the like and I could add to this list on a case by case basis. But as a matter of principle I feel that liberty, freedom, well-being and happiness are best served by allowing people to be creative and free to operate given the necessary limits of civility. In my observation of societies it is apparent to me that the more capitalism that is allowed to function the more is available to more people than in any other system that has been tried. I am not sure who believes that government is ideal but what I hear from my more leftist friends is that when we have a problem or perceived problem we must demand remedies from our politicians. It has gone so far as to feel that one of government’s functions is to protect us from being offended.

    I agree with you that humans are not entirely economically rational actors and that they act on a wide range of issues including values, morals etc. It is the Marxist view of people that posits that humans act almost entirely on such motives and this view is alive and well in the Dem camp in this country. “It’s the economy, stupid”, is something we have heard recently. We also see this to some extent in our “War on Poverty”, as if economic status is directly related to happiness and we all know that this is not true.

    As for my ideal economy… There certainly is a link between growth and a healthy economy. Your use of the word maximize is interesting. There is an axiom in business that you are either growing or going down the drain. This is a function of the fact that we live in a competitive environment and it is impossible to stay still and provide what people demand. So in this sense one must try to maximize growth and I try to do that. However, I am not willing to run over my friends on the left in this pursuit. An easy read and fun book on economics is P.J. O’Rourke’s “Eat the Rich”. As for this difficult question of happiness, a subject that has perplexed the philosophers of the ages from Plato forward… Happiness to me is what is reached along the way by personal satisfaction achieved through accomplishment. And how you define that is very individual. One thing I do know is that we cannot bring it about for someone else and we particularly cannot do it by giving them things. This only serves to create dependency and thus resentment. That is the human condition.

    Nice questions and I look forward to your comments.

  35. "Defend the principle that government is the best answer to our social ills."

    I won't. I don't know that it is because different social ills require a different mix of private and public efforts to effect change. I do, however, know that the government is the only instrument capable of addressing certain social ills. For example, as bad as the government's response to the hurricane Katrina disaster, it would have been far worse had the response been exclusively left up to private efforts. While the Red Cross and Salvation Army play vital roles in responses of this sort, some problems are of such a massive scope that there is no private entity large enough to deal with them. Although the moon mission was not a response to a social ill, it was something I doubt private efforts would have been able to accomplish. Private efforts need return on investment in the nearer future than can be expected for certain necessary leaps forward in human progress.

    Briefly, I think the results by which we should judge an economic system are threefold:
    1) Economic growth
    2) Economic stability: are there booms and busts constantly?
    3) Economic fairness: how large is the disparity between rich and poor? This one is where we will most likely disagree, but I see this as being a valid measure for judging an economic system.

    My reasons for holding to the third point are many, but I'll try to briefly explain why I do. First, huge class divisions are conducive to political instability in nations. In many developing countries, there is a gaping disparity between the rich and the poor. The rich are forced to live in gated communities under constant guard. Although they have servants to cook and clean and drive for them, they are unable to be part of the fabric of society, doing things as simple as walking and shopping in the city. They need to constantly fear uprisings or invasions of their gated compounds. To avoid that abysmal state of affairs, I'll trade a little economic growth for economic fairness.

    Another reason is that it's not just the absolute levels of economic prosperity that matter to our happiness, but it's also our relative prosperity that matters. Even if the poor in the US are doing better than the poor in some other countries, the US poor may be less happy than the poor in those other countries, because there is still a larger gap between classes in the US.

    Further, I think there are people whose market value is indeed too low for them to live with dignity, no matter how hard they try. I don't want to live in a country where children of low-income families grow up without education or healthcare, where a middle-aged women debilitated by MS must live on the streets because she can no longer satisfy her boss, or where a child's success is fated before she's even born.

    As far as happiness, I think we can place a certain value on health and leisure and the happiness they bring. Studies I've seen show the US falling behind European countries in health, and we know the European countries trade some economic growth for a little leisure. I'm not an expert on this issue, but I'm not convinced the ultimate purpose of an economic system is economic growth. If we make it an optimization problem, I want a function that maximizes something more tangible to us humans than economic growth, because economic growth alone does not inexorably bring more happiness.

  36. Ilmarinen,

    We don’t disagree at all about the concept of fairness as I perfectly understand that is in everyone’s selfish interest to maintain peace. I am better off if my neighbor is working. One of the healthy hallmarks of the United States has been that we have had a large middle class and that to a large extent is it’s secret to success.

    Now as for how to achieve that… We probably also agree that to some extent this is accomplished through a progressive tax system which I support but not in its extreme. The European limits on such taxes is counter-productive and stifles economic activity never mind growth. As for living in dignity you introduced two classes into the mix, children of the poor and the disabled in some fashion. Firstly, one of the sure ways to guarantee poverty is to have children out of wedlock and try to raise them as a single parent. I realize that there are exceptions but broadly speaking this is true. This is a values issue that has not been addressed by our more progressive brethren for fear of being judgmental. And if you consider yourself one of the left this is on your doorstep… getting rid of the tabu of having such kids. I am all in favor of promoting social arrangements that work for kids and advocating single parent families is not one of them. Now, I understand that there are situations that take place that are unforeseen but what we are talking about are policies that allow people to have children and then marry the state for support. Entry level wages were never designed, nor should they be, to be sufficient to raise families on. Most people pass through this level on their way to a higher wage and that is what we should be encouraging. Governmental intrusion so that Mr. Jones will get a pay raise is counter productive and damaging to society. As for the disabled there are many programs in place to ensure healthcare perhaps not on the level of Bill Gates but that shouldn’t be our yardstick. This is not attainable, at least is not forseeable.

    An interesting look at the European economies that offer massive amounts of leisure time, health benefits, not-working benefits shows that they are not sustainable. Sweden will eventually have to change their sick leave policies to reflect current reality and France is hopeless. Ireland has achieved success with its promotion of free enterprise and everyone is benefiting. This is not my original idea but I want compassionate people with a just government. When we demand of the government to guarantee equality of outcome and be compassionate we are demanding at the same time that it be unjust. When the state taxes to support others it necessarily takes the property of some under the threat of violence to give to others it deems more worthy. And it doesn’t matter the intention… eventually it ends up not promoting tranquility. So we should keep the violence to a minimum

  37. Stylux, I'm going to call you to task for your comment about entry level wages not meant to be sufficient for families and that most move on past this. I totally disagree with you. We are a service society and most of those jobs do NOT rise into a reasonable range. Again I refer to all the workers who clean office buildings and homes, work at fast food places, pick our produce, mow our lawns, cashier at megastores, etc. Take a good look at some of them: they are not teenagers earning some spending money. Most are much older, many have families. A lot of your argument seems to point toward a self-justification so you won't have to spend time feeling bad for these people. ("I managed to accomplish blah-blah, so they should, too.") That's my impression.

  38. Stylux, I'm going to call you to task for your comment about entry level wages not meant to be sufficient for families and that most move on past this. I totally disagree with you. We are a service society and most of those jobs do NOT rise into a reasonable range. Again I refer to all the workers who clean office buildings and homes, work at fast food places, pick our produce, mow our lawns, cashier at megastores, etc. Take a good look at some of them: they are not teenagers earning some spending money. Most are much older, many have families. A lot of your argument seems to point toward a self-justification so you won't have to spend time feeling bad for these people. ("I managed to accomplish blah-blah, so they should, too.") That's my impression.

  39. Sisu…

    You attribute such sordid motives for the values I hold and when I hear “blah-blah” I am forced to think that you disregard the validity of not only the argument but also my good will. I understand that you want what is best for society and would ask you to attribute the same for me. Incidentally, I am not a part of the landed elite having been raised in a large, lower middle class family and worked since the fourth grade so I think it’s reasonable on my part to draw on my life’s experiences. I pay taxes, cope with life as most, have no inheritance to draw on, employ people and meet a payroll and do not have a printing press to make money. I also draw on my observations. Now to the “reasonable” wage or “living” wage as it has so been redefined. Most economists who write on the matter consider the minimum wage to be counter productive in the long run. If a business is forced to pay a higher wage due to government mandate it must cut costs somewhere else and usually this takes place by hiring fewer people. (Sisu... Specifically, Where is the business going to get the extra money??? How many times in the last year have you deliberately bought the same product at a higher cost due to social reasons?) This usually results in fewer people getting jobs in entry level positions and this hurts the very sectors of society that I know you care about. Raising the minimum wage gives short term gratification and votes to politicians at the cost of the long term. We all get to feel good and don’t have to worry about the hard work that isn’t done because of it. It is true and demographic studies show this, that most workers do not spend long in their careers in the entry level paygrades and they should be encouraged to improve their skills just as I have to improve mine. What is wrong with that. And please tell me how is it that I am engaging in self-justification?

  40. Friends,
    The issue of disdain is very important to me. Disdain corrodes both the person who expresses it and the person to whom it is expressed. Disdain comes in many forms, both apparently harmless and obviously aggressive.
    As I read this exchange, what keeps coming back to me is a proverb that the poet William Blake included in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "Damn braces, Bless relaxes." One of the things that means to me is that What causes anxiety is different from that which reassures.
    To be sure, Jane Smiley is not trying to reassure anyone, and some of what she says is questionable (Minnesota a red state?) or even factually wrong, but those elements of her piece may not be the important thing.
    What strikes me is her tone. She is not disrespectful. She is not dismissive. She is angry: she is calling people to a higher standard of ethical conduct than the one they have chosen. She describes their behavior, the consequences of that behavior, and their knowledge of those consequences, and asks why their behavior is not different and better.
    Enough about Jane Smiley. How about us? Whether we are angry or not angry, are we--in the forgoing discussion--being respectful of each other? Are we being dismissive? (For example, are we finding fault for irrelevant reasons, like red state Minnesota?) The combination of disrespect and dismissiveness is disdain. The cause of disdain is fear. But we shouldn't be hard on people who are disdainful; that only compounds the problem.
    People who are in fear (and who practice disdain) deserve our compassion and understanding. Two obligations arise, one on the side of the fearful and one on the side of the nonfearful: The fearful need to face and conquer their fears and the others need to empathize with the fearfuls' perception of threat.

    By the way, concerning the role of "capitalists" a business-friendly political culture, here is an overview of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease) as practiced in the U.S.A., in the midst of a larger article:



  41. Oven Mitt, you are right. Stylux, I apologize for appearing not to take your comments serviously. Everyone has the right to be heard and to say what he/she believes. I am sorry.
    We come from similar backgrounds and yet view the world so very differently. Makes for interesting conversation!

  42. Ilmarinen…

    Back at you on the first part of your blog.

    Regarding governmental action and Katrina… I have addressed this in the past and might add that all things being equal the more local you can deal with the problem, the better. And local government failed miserably both on a city and a state level and both entities had the power and resources to do much better. The reason that this is not being talked about is that both were Democratically controlled and that is a fact. I am interested in your comment on the moon mission. While my libertarian (small l) leanings tell me that this is not the business of government, I supported it. I agree with you that this did not address any social ill and am forced to justify it based on technological improvement across many sectors of society as a result of the effort. I do admit that this is a flimsy justification on my part and that strictly speaking one could say that eventually the market would support such an effort and therefore it would get done… Witness the recent efforts to sell seating on future space flights.

  43. Sisu...

    Accepted. And you are right... we come from similar backgrounds and see the world differently but c'est la vie... at least you have Free in your corner. And I apologize for coming on too strong sometimes and I also enjoy this venue. And lastly it's good to see my favorite moniker "Oven Mitt" (wish I would have thought of it) back again.

  44. Shucks, it seems that nobody on this blog is too thin skinned anymore. We all get caught up in the heat of battle occasionally (I certainly do) -- and get a little sarcastic and abrasive, but I don't think any of us wants to offend anyone (I certainly do not).

    So to those who I have already offended -- and to those who I will surely offend in the near future -- I apologize.

  45. nah, we aren't thin skinned. Just be yerself :-)

  46. Re:"We are the people we've been
    waiting for."

    On a similar vein:

    Pogo famously observed tnis
    aphorism on Earth Day 1970;

    "We have met the enemy and
    he is us!"

  47. Nice put, Oven Mitt.

    I would add that this means of communicating is challenging (as I've said before but I'll risk boring you). On the web, we are unable to receive the zillions of signals we get when speaking face to face (or even over the phone). Signals of age, gender, class, education, ability, temperament, mood, well-being, and especially intention. Some of us are young, some old, some unschooled, some overschooled, some sardonic, others not so much.

    Sometimes I read a post and scratch my head, wondering if the writer's intent was sincere, ironic or . . .just cryptic. I guess that is what emoticons are for?

    If anyone wants to give us an emoticon tutorial, I'm ready. (Perhaps it could include some LLL-specific icons.)

    Meanwhile, whatever you have to say, I like to imagine you writing with a smile. Feel free to imagine the same for me.